Expert Warns of Base Conversion Conflict


Bitter acrimony like Orange County’s debate over El Toro frequently accompanies military base closures and is evidence of a flawed process of conversion, an expert on base closings said at an international conference Friday.

And, unchecked, community conflicts can smolder like forest fires, consuming money and resources, said Joan Holtzman, the associate director of the Center for Economic Conversion, a San Francisco-area think tank.

“This is not unprecedented; there are many communities that have been hung up for 10 or 15 years over a base conversion,” Holtzman said. “You can go through litigation until everybody’s pockets are dry.”

Holtzman was among the speakers at a symposium held by the International Consortium for Research on Energy and Environmental Management and Technology. Holtzman’s panel dealt with military base conversions. More than 115 scholars from 21 nations are attending the conference, being held through today at the Long Beach Hilton.


Holtzman’s organization, funded by foundations, works to help communities achieve consensus in handling the conversion of military bases to civilian uses, and stresses environmentally and economically sensitive uses.

Holtzman said that conversion of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station to a major international airport might not be an appropriate use, considering the amount of opposition.

“It’s very common to have contested issues when it’s a multi-jurisdictional area or when there are vested interests, big-money interests involved against citizen groups,” Holtzman said.

Holtzman and others said Orange County would benefit if officials slowed the process and encouraged full participation of all affected groups.

“The long view is that this is not something where you have a deadline,” said Joseph F. Dimento, professor of urban planning and law at UC Irvine and another member of the panel. “Orange County is growing very well in the absence of the airport.”

Other speakers at the seminar included Gary Simmon, manager of the El Toro master development program for the county, and Larry Agran, a former Irvine mayor and airport foe and chairman of Project 99, a conversion study group.